“For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” [Mt 7:13]
“For many are invited, but few are chosen.” [Mt 22:14]
Dedicated to my friend Don Rogers.
This post forms part of a synchroblog on “Maturity” (see the list below). I would like to explore the idea of how growing more like G-d means becoming not more elite, pious, or exclusive, but rather more Inclusive. That to become mature, we are “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”, expansive, hospitable, and generous.
Is Jesus for the few? Generally speaking, people associate Jesus and his message via the church with a view that he is somehow beyond reach; the one thing ties both these texts together is the word “Few”.
For example, my journey in faith began as viewing salvation as a particular, and very exclusive experience. The much cliched epithet “No man comes to the Father but by me” seemed cast in stone by most sectors of the church culture I found myself in. What it amounted to was “You cannot find salvation unless it is via our view of God.”
As I eased into the identity of being a christian, I started to experience G-d as being, above all things, Love. Then, as I worked out the implications of this, a tension began to grow between the convictions of a Loving Generosity and the assertions of an Exclusive Piety. As conflict between the heart and dogma increased, I started to look away.
After a while, this struggle became too much. I simply opted out of church culture altogether, not deeming it worth it. However, the years spent away from the religious establishment were not a backward move, for it was in this liminal space between being “found” and being “lost” that real, deeper convictions could take hold. I gained the freedom to ask any question I wanted to without the fear of the Few.
Recently I began a return to Orthodoxy. In this arcing movement, I am reminded of Luke 9:51, which says, “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem”. There have been skirmishes on the way back in, painful clashes between my renewed faith and the same old ways I had left. Eventually I arrived back where I had started 27 years previously, with an almost totally different vision.
This current stage sees me as happier than ever to be counted a christian. So what is different? This brings us back to the intital question: Is Jesus for the few?
I once read “Many are invited but few are chosen” to mean that only people believing like “us” (charismatic or evangelical) christians – were “chosen”, despite the fact that G-d had made known the offer of salvation to the whole world. Chosen/Few was the positive, and this implied that “invited/many” was somehow the negative side of the equasion.
We need to understand the background to the monotheistic notion of the “chosen”, so here is a thumbnail sketch of the Biblical plan of salvation:
YHWH, The Creator God, calls the Chaldean Abram, to leave his ‘hood, Ur, and follow. A promise is made, in which G-d says
“I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
Notice the word “all”. It written into the contract out of which monotheism arose. However, the reality was that the people whom God chose, became self-serving. Being “chosen” came to mean being above and apart from, and lost the understanding of being chosen for a purpose beyond themselves.
Despite it all, this promise – this divine meme – found its way into the greater world via the Incarnation of Christ. Paul, in addressing the Gentile (read – everyone else in the world not born a Jew) church at Galatia, says “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” The promise profiligates, outside the walls of Zion.
This plan continues to this day via many means. But the problems Jesus encountered in the religiosity of his day seems only to have become worse. The elitism implicit in Jewish religion is now found on a far wider scale, and is prevalent everywhere in this, the church, us, me. “Chosen-ness” becomes the domain no longer of the Jew but of the Christian too (and neither is such exclusivity restricted to any one religion).
So, I have been reasking the question, Is Jesus for the few?
When I read “narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” I always placed the emphasis on “only a few”. But as I became aware of how wide, how generous, how accepting, is G-ds love, I started to place the emphasis on the word “find”. Instead of trumpeting how many would be excluded, Jesus here acknowledging how hard it is to come to truth. It takes a lot to ask, seek and to knock. To be honest, not many are up to it. Few willingly chose the pain of discipline. But the weakness of man is not stronger than the love of G-d, for G-d’s love longs for us; if we don’t find it, mystical grace says that it can still find us.
The Message renders Mt 7:13 like this:
“Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life-to God!-is vigorous and requires total attention.”
The focus here is on encouragement, not failure. It is around our best interests, not our condemnation. It is on One who longs for our fulfillment, not blithely assigning us to the dustbin of failure. “Making it” is a matter of freely given grace, not effort.
I used to read Mt 22:14 such that “chosen” was what was desired and “invited” meant “offered and already rejected”. This meant that only the minority, the remnant, the truly spiritual, were saved. And the majority – the invited – were therefore doomed.
Such were the theological gymnastics required to understand an exclusive God. But now I see that the many are the invited, and the few, the (self-) chosen. By and large, the judgemental sayings of Jesus were reserved for the religious establishment, specifically the scribes and the Pharisees (Hebrew פרושים prushim meaning “separated”).
I believe that Jesus’s apparent exclusivity is largely his subverting of the religious establishments own exclusion. He says in effect “You want to be better than everyone by observing the law? You want chosen? OK, you can have chosen. I have invited all to experience Grace, and you stubbornly cleave to the Law, well, few who come to me will be able to boast about being chosen”.
Invitation and Choosing are subtly different. The Inviter willingly surenders control, wooing the invitees to respond by their own free will, while the Chooser enforces their will on the chosen. To respond to the invitation is a call to freedom, but to be chosen, while an honour, brings with it a burden of responsibility. I am not suggesting that invitees need not take responsiblity, but the result of joyously accepting an invitation results in a party, a celebration, a dance.
Don’t misunderstand me, I am not claiming a free for all, “cheap”, universalism, nor am I denying accountability. I am challenging a deeply held myth of the exclusivity of G-d, especially within the christian church.
“Many are invited, but few are chosen” to me means “Many are included, but a few will, regretably, exclude themselves from Grace.”
It’s a long and ongoing journey, but I am thankful that at this time I have the joy of knowing and following a generous G-d. Maturity may be elusive, but it is not exclusive.
- Lainie Petersen at Headspace with “Watching Daddy Die“
- Kathy Escobar at The Carnival in My Head with “What’s inside the bunny?”
- John Smulo at JohnSmulo.com
- Erin Word at Decompressing Faith with “Long-Wearing Nail Polish and Other Stories”
- Beth Patterson at The Virtual Teahouse with The future is ours to see: crumbling like a mountain
- Bryan Riley at Charis Shalom
- Alan Knox at The Assembling of the Church with “Maturity and Education
- KW Leslie at The Evening of Kent
- Bethany Stedman at Coffee Klatch with “Moving Towards True Being: The Long Process of Maturity”
- Adam Gonnerman at Igneous Quill with “Old Enough to Follow Christ?
- Joe Miller at More Than Cake with “Intentional Relationships for Maturity
- Jonathan Brink at Jonathan Brink.com with I Won’t Sin
- Susan Barnes at A Booklook with “Growing Up”
Tracy Simmons at The Best Parts with A Tic in the Mind’s Eye with Spiritual Maturity And The Examination of Conscience
- Sally Coleman at Eternal Echoes
- Liz Dyer at Grace Rules with “What I Wish The Church Knew About Spiritual Maturity
- Cobus van Wyngaard at My Contemplations with Post-enlightenment Christians in an unenlightened South Africa
- Steve Hayes at Khanya with Adult Content
- Ryan Peter at Ryan Peter Blogs and Stuff with “The Foundation For Ministry and Leading“
- Phil Wyman at Square no more with Is maturity really what I want
- Kaiblogy on Mature Virtue